Oregon private casino proponents drop campaign

Backers of private Oregon casino end campaign for ballot measures amid lack of voter support

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- After betting more than $5 million they could persuade voters to approve Oregon's first privately owned casino, the Canadian developers folded their hand Tuesday, saying they would suspend their campaign because there isn't enough support from voters.

Two Canadian companies have spent millions on television commercials promoting a proposal they've dubbed "The Grange," which would include a casino, hotel and water park in the Portland metro area.

Measures 82 and 83, which would amend the Oregon constitution to allow a casino in Wood Village, will still appear on the ballot, but the proponents say they won't spend any more money to promote them.

"In the last few weeks it appears to the campaign team that not enough Oregon voters are ready to add a private casino to the state's gaming options," the proponents said in a statement.

The developers said they're still committed to building the project if the measures pass and they'll "continue to hope for the best on election day."

Opponents of the project said they'll press ahead with their campaign to ensure the ballot measures don't pass. They argued that the casino would shift the nature of gambling in Oregon from a source of government funding to one of private profits.

"They obviously ran a really serious campaign, albeit misleading, so we think it's important that we continue educating voters about these measures," said Cynara Lilly, a spokeswoman for the opponents of the ballot measures. The opposition campaign is paid for primarily by the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which runs Spirit Mountain Casino southwest of Portland.

Oregon's constitution bans gambling. The state's nine existing casinos are operated by Indian tribes, which have signed contracts with the state allowing them to operate one full-service casino each on reservation land, which is sovereign territory beyond the reach of state laws.

The new casino would be owned by PDX Entertainment company, a corporation with about 19 shareholders created in March and based in Lake Oswego. Clairvest Group Inc. and Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, publicly traded Canadian companies, together own a majority stake in PDX Entertainment.

Clairvest is a private equity firm with stakes in at least seven casinos in the U.S., Canada and Chile. Great Canadian owns 12 casinos and race tracks in Canada and five card rooms in Washington state.

The proponents invested more than $5.4 million over two months to promote the concept, blanketing airwaves and filling mailboxes with advertisements promoting good jobs, money for schools and an exciting entertainment destination. They also spent $1.1 million collecting signatures to get the measures on the ballot.

But they faced an uphill climb from the beginning. A similar proposal got just 32 percent of the vote two years ago.

The casino proponents are the second deep-pocketed interest to abandon a ballot measure campaign in Oregon this year. A recreational fishing group announced earlier this year that it would stop promoting a measure that would ban fishing with gillnets on the Columbia River.